Three years have passed since the ‘riots’ that shook England following the shooting of Mark Duggan at the hands of the Metropolitan police. But as Ferguson burns across the Atlantic following the shooting of Michael Brown and yet another inquiry exposes the  endemic corruption within the Metropolitan Police force here in the UK, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to revisit the legacy of the 2011 UK riots.

The Sociology Department at the University of Manchester, in association with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centreand the Race, Ethnicity and Postcolonial Studies (REPS) network is delighted to invite you to a screening of Fahim Alam’s documentary,Riots Reframed. (

The film pieces together the stories of those involved, whose voices all but disappeared amongst the moral panic in the media and amongst politicians and policy makers in the immediate aftermath of the uprisings.  Furthermore, the film also looks at the experiences of those who experienced the sharp end of the UK ‘justice’ system afterwards.

Following the film there will be a panel discussion


> Fahim Alam – Director of Riots Reframed

> Dr Malcolm James – Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at Sussex University editor of Behind the Riots series for the Guardian and author of “Mark Duggan and Britain’s post colonial politics of death”

> Professor Lou Kushnick – Emeritus Professor University of Manchester, founder and director of the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre and author of Race, class & struggle: essays on racism and inequality in Britain, the US, and Western Europe

> Elisa Pieri – PhD researcher at the University of Manchester (in Sociology and at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre), whereshe studies security and the city centre.

> Dr Sivamohan Valluvan – Lecturer in Sociology, University of Manchester – contributor to The Guardian’s Behind the Riots series and co author of Critical Consumers Run Riot in Manchester

The event will start at 5.00 at Manchester Central Library, St Peter’s Square, Manchester on Wednesday 17 September 2014.

Refreshments will be provided.
Please circulate widely.

I’ll add this special issue of Sociological Research Online to my collection Sociological Imagination and UK Riots.

Saturday 15th October, 2011, Birmingham Midland Institute
£10 waged, £5 unwaged

The recent civil disturbances across a number of English cities have provoked much commentary and debate. However, there has been little sustained analysis of the events, their causes and likely consequences. This symposium is one in a series of unrelated endeavours to bring public understandings and sociological perspectives to bear upon the events of last month. To this end we have invited a diverse range of speakers to open up the discussion, and combine academics and members of the community on the stage and in the audience.  We combine speakers who will present sociological perspectives on the civil disturbances with a discussion of civic responses.

The event is organized by the British Sociological Association’s Theory Study Group in collaboration with the Department of Sociology, University of Leicester and the Social Theory Centre, University of Warwick.


10-11 Registration
11-12.30 Panel 1:  Institutions  – Police, Politicians, Family, Media
12.30-2pm Lunch
2-3.30 Panel 2: Civic Responses – Young People, Community Organizing, Social Movements
3.30-4 Break
4-5.30 Roundtable: Learning from the past, looking to the future: What now?


Dr Karim Murji
Senior Lecturer in Sociology
The Open University

Ajmal Hussain
London School of Economics

Dr Nina Power
Senior Lecturer
University of Roehampton

An absolutely superb letter in the Guardian from the British Sociological Association about the contribution sociology can make to understanding the UK Riots:

One of the first things that disappears when considering disturbances such as these is perspective. One loses sight of the fact that nine out of 10 local residents aren’t rioting, that nine out of 10 who are rioting aren’t local to the area, and that nine out of 10 of these non-locals aren’t doing it to commit crime. That is to say, it is a tiny minority who are participating and, of those that are, it’s a tiny minority who are doing so solely to commit crime. Crime is a motive, but crowd behaviour is a more complex process, and it is sociology as a discipline that best understands crowd behaviour.

Crowds are irrational. Crowds don’t have motives – that’s far too calculating and rational. Crowd behaviour is dynamic in unpredictable ways, and reason and motive disappear when crowds move unpredictably. But has anyone made a connection with the two media events that dominated media coverage on the same day – the irrationality of crowds on the streets and of traders on the stock market? Both sorts of behaviour are moved by emotion not reason, passions not predictability, and reason disappears. Economists are lauded for their accounts of the irrationality of the market traders, but sociologists get criticised for suggesting that allegations of criminality are a poor account of the irrationality of crowds (Was this the mayor’s Katrina moment?, 10 August).

Sociologists seek to explain – not explain away – these events. An understanding of the impact of social inequalities and deprivation, youth unemployment, racism and ethnic conflict, and crime and policing forms a large part of the concerns of UK sociology. Since most politicians and the police seem to have been taken unawares by the events of the past few days, it seems we need more understanding and explanation, not less, if we are to be able to draw lessons from the current events and prevent their recurrence. The British Sociological Association would be happy to put London’s mayor and his staff in touch with sociologists who could add real understanding to the all-too-easy condemnations of these disturbing events.

Professor John Brewer President, BSA

Howard Wollman Vice-chair, BSA

Tottenham Riots

So with London in flames for the third night in a row and, for the first time, disturbances spreading outside of the capital, the British population are asking the natural question – what the fuck is going on? The most frequent, as well as understandable, response to this question has been moral condemnation.

Yet calling these riots ‘lawless looting’ or ‘pure criminality’ isn’t explanation, it’s description. In the last 48 hours of being obsessively glued to coverage of events (on social media and traditional media) one of the things that’s stood out most to me is antipathy to the former response in favor of the latter. Many people seem to assume that attempts to explain the riots are tantamount to moral justification, as if recognizing causal factors beyond the proclivities of particular individuals involved – or a purported culture they share – erases responsibility for their actions.

In extreme cases this manifests itself in outright racism and classism but, in more moderate forms, it merely stands as a refusal to seriously engage with the severity of events. Rather than trying to understand how and why these riots are happening, it’s implied that they’re an inevitable consequence of the characteristics of those involved: given sufficient opportunity criminals will pursue criminal acts. Yet it would be a mistake to jump to the opposite extreme and argue that ‘austerity has caused these riots’, as if that’s all that needs to be said to explain the pretty much unprecedented scenes we’re all watching.

At root, this can almost be construed as a methodological dispute about the central sociological question of structure and agency: should an event like this be explained in terms of the action of people involved or in terms of wider social forces shaping that action? The obvious excluded middle is that it’s both: public policy at both a metropolitan and national level, as well as the wider political and economic environment within which that policy is enacted, has shaped the life circumstances which different groups within cities encounter on a day-to-day basis. A plethora of cultural changes, some driven by these policies and others relatively independent, have shaped how different groups experience, interpret and respond to these circumstances (not least of all the spread of social media and smarts phones, which have been central to the organization, coverage and clean up of the riots).

This might seem an overly abstract way of looking at such extreme events but these questions aren’t going to go away. Over the coming days, weeks and months we’re going to hear many suggested explanations of these events: breakdown of authority, youth unemployment, gang culture, failing educational systems, declining family structures, failures of multiculturalism, local government cuts, police cuts, declining educational opportunities, entrenched poverty etc. The right will invoke micro factors (some entirely accurate, others with a kernel of truth, many which are offensive nonsense) while the left will invoke macro factors (austerity, unemployment and disenfranchisement) and be condemned by the great and the good of the right-wing press for ‘point-scoring’ and ‘political opportunism’. Meanwhile, conspicuous by its absence, will be what C Wright Mills called the Sociological Imagination, the capacity to knit together the macro and the micro – the personal and the historical – through the recognition that:

“The facts of contemporary history are also facts about the success and the failure of individual men and women. When a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise or fall, a person is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a person takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesperson becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar operator; a wife or husband lives alone; a child grows up without a parent. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”